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Airport scanner producer accused of faking privacy tests

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A member of Congress has suggested that supplier of airport body-scanners Rapiscan may have faked software tests designed to protect consumer privacy.

So, when you walk through the scanner on your way from JFK to Heathrow, your privates may not be so private after all.

Rapiscan, a unit of OSI Systems Inc., is one of two suppliers that manufactures machines used to scan passengers before boarding aircrafts. The type Rapiscan produces use a form of X-rays, whereas the other use imaging known as millimeter-wave, produced by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc.

Bloomberg reports that Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, said in a letter to TSA chief John Pistole that the department had received a tip about the faked tests, and alleges that Rapiscan "may have attempted to defraud the government by knowingly manipulating an operational test."

The publication says Rapiscan "has been trying, without success, to write software that would display a generic image" when a passenger is scanned by its machines. Instead of replacing a near-naked image of the passenger with a stick image, the software may be flawed and not work, according to the TSA.

There is currently no evidence to support the allegations, obtained through an anonymous source. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has spent $40 million on Rapiscan's offerings to date.

The TSA owns 174 backscatter machines. 91 units worth $14 million are now being moved to a warehouse instead of being redeployed.

Although customer safety has not been affected, as the machines still detect anomalies on human bodies, according to USA Today, concerns are serious enough that machines have been pulled from New York's LaGuardia and JFK, Chicago O'Hare, Los Angeles, Boston, Charlotte and Orlando airports.

Rapiscan denies the allegations, and said that it is not possible to falsify such tests as the process is controlled by the government. Rapiscan company executive Peter Kant said that "at no time did Rapiscan falsify test data or any information related to this technology or the test."

(via Bloomberg)

Image credit: Doug Letterman

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— By on November 16, 2012, 4:45 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure